More CSO concerts are cancelled as musicians strike goes into second week

Mon Mar 18, 2019 at 3:15 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra cancelled another round of concerts Monday afternoon, as the musicians’ strike moves into its second week, and charges and countercharges continue to fly from both sides over dueling interpretations of pension plan graphs and financial minutiae in the ongoing contract impasse.

This week’s CSO concerts with Osmo Vänskä and violinist Vadim Gluzman were cancelled as well as several young people’s programs and the American in Paris performances in the “CSO at the Movies” series.

In a CSO Association press conference Monday afternoon, board chair Helen Zell said that it is “absolutely untrue” that management is  “taking away” their pensions, as the union claims, adding that their position is “unreasonable and detrimental to a sustainable future” for the orchestra.

CSOA president Jeff Alexander addressed the musicians’ statements that during the negotiations he agreed with their contention that the proposed direct contribution retirement plan (or “direct benefit” as the CSOA side now calls it) would be more costly than the current defined benefit pension plan the musicians want to keep.

“It is more expensive up front but it’s an investment in the future and the association’s future,” said Alexander. He added that the CSOA believes  the proposed plan “would significantly reduce the volatility” by “freezing” the current defined benefit plan.

The association’s CFO Stacie Frank emphasized that “No one is losing anything” and that the new plan would only apply to future CSO hires not currently employed musicians. “Everything you’ve earned you keep. This is about…having a sustainable future.”

Frank did concede in response to questions that the “volatility” under the proposed plan would be shifted to the musicians under the new plan rather than the CSOA.

Alexander also rejected the union’s statement that accused the association of misrepresenting figures and manipulating data in its charts and graphs on everything from projected pension benefits to salary comparisons and the costs of living in different cities. “Their charts show the same information as ours,” he said.

On a small note of optimism, Alexander said that “there is room for movement” on the salary element of the contract. The CSOA is currently offering a 5% increase over a three-year contract while the union seeks a 12% increase over the same period.

There are no further meetings between the sides scheduled at this time. Alexander said that after no progress was made after lengthy sessions on Friday and Saturday, both sides agreed it would be “good to take a pause” in negotiations.

The CSO picket line continues to attract politicians and celebrities with mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle and the cast of Hamilton making appearances last week in support of the striking musicians. 

Posted in News

Leave a Comment